They don't see big gains ahead, but they do see growth in some unexpected places. When the presidents of Europe, Japan and North America's major industrial truck organizations spoke at the Industrial Truck Association's (ITA) annual meeting in October, they reported that the trucks that are selling best aren't necessarily the ones you might expect.
Take Europe, for example. Ambrogio Bollini, president of the Federation of European Material Handling Manufacturers' industrial truck group, noted an unusual pattern of lift-truck demand in Europe (which accounts for about 42 percent of worldwide industrial truck sales). Though it might come as a surprise to observers in industrialized nations, Bollini said, demand for counterbalanced, or CB, trucks—and internal combustion (IC) CB trucks, in particular—continues to grow faster than demand for trucks in what he defines as the "warehousing" segment.
Bollini believes that may reflect burgeoning demand from Eastern Europe. "This might be related to the fact the growth is mostly coming from emerging economies, where the needs are more basic—industrial and construction-related rather than sophisticated logistic[s] development," he said. In contrast, he said, sales of "warehousing" trucks are outpacing CB sales in Western Europe, where overall sales are growing more slowly. Bollini expects those trends to continue in 2006.
In Japan, too, sales of CB trucks continue to dominate the market, accounting for close to 75 percent of sales. Up until now, most of the trucks sold have been IC vehicles, Rikuro Tasaka, president of the Japan Industrial Vehicles Association and chairman of TCA Corp., told the ITA audience. But that's beginning to change. Sales of electric trucks are gaining market share, a result of both environmental concerns and performance gains among AC electric trucks, which are now approaching the performance levels of IC trucks. He expects demand for electric trucks to grow as a result of tighter government restrictions on emissions.
The outlook was a little different back in the United States. James Malvaso, president of ITA and president and CEO of The Raymond Corp., said he expected no major shifts in the mix of trucks sold. As for sales overall, he predicted 2006 sales would remain relatively flat, running at about the same level—186,000 to 190,000 units—recorded in 2005.